The majority of our current research is within rugby, furthering our understanding of the match demands, training loads, and the fatigue and recovery profiles of players following these activities. These are all important areas to investigate, as the relate to player development, performance and wellbeing.
We have been working with Leeds Rhinos rugby league club and Yorkshire Carnegie rugby union club for a number of years. Through the university, we have embedded almost 20 PhD students within the clubs, which is further supported by students from our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
Rugby Union is a late specialisation sport, and because of this, numerous stakeholders play a part in an athlete’s development programme. At Yorkshire Carnegie we have been investigating how this influences a players weekly, and seasonal training load. So far, our findings have highlighted the large variability in weekly training load, which has the potential to increase the risk of injury. We have also quantified the recovery profiles of players following different training sessions and also match play , so that now coaches have an evidence base to use when planning and managing training and development programmes for players. This has also been used by the RFU to inform their age grade guidelines.
At Leeds Rhinos, we have undertaken a large amount of research to understand the match demands of rugby league, and more recently the collision demands (e.g. tackles and ball carries), which are currently under researched. To date, we have quantified the energy demands of contact training, so we can better support the nutritional requirements of players. More recently, we have investigated the hardest collision and running demands of match play, which is now used to support the clubs training prescription.
Since 2015, in collaboration with the University of Bath, we have been working with the Rugby Football Union. Our aim is to measure the physical qualities of academy rugby union players within the Regional Academies, alongside their training loads, life loads, and relate this to their development and injury status. This will allow practitioners to further their understanding of the optimal player development environment, improving performance and reducing injury risk.
We are also working on a project for World Rugby, in collaboration with the University of Cape Town to understand the match characteristics of rugby union in England, South Africa, USA, New Zealand, Portugal and Hong Kong. Our aim is to understand how the match characteristics differ from senior international to U12 school, and the levels in between. This study is based on some of our work which demonstrated that the demands of rugby union were different for younger players, who undertake more running and less collisions than senior players.
Our future research, in collaboration with Catapult and the Rugby Football League is quantifying the demands of rugby league from all Super League teams. This is the first league-wide research project in any sport. All Super League teams wear the same devices, and share the data centrally, so we can undertake research into how the demands of the match demands are related to performance, injury or player development. This also links into our research we are doing with England Rugby League where we are profiling all academy players, and relating this to performance and injury, to maximise our opportunities of making more world class players, with the intention of supporting the 2021 Rugby League world cup campaign.